The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has impacted on all business operations, but the effects have been particularly profound for the life science sector. Pharmaceutical, healthcare and biotechnology businesses have led the response to COVID-19, from drug trials and vaccine development to the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators. Facing what appeared as an insurmountable crisis, the life science industry acted as quickly as possible to provide vaccines and treatments to the novel coronavirus. As we approach the second anniversary of the pandemic, we wanted to pause to ask what the lasting impact on the life science sector will be.
Under normal circumstances, developing and testing a vaccine can take up to 10-15 years due to the complexity of the process. The need to secure funding and await approvals can slow the process down further. However, due to the urgency created by the crisis, the developmental window was dramatically reduced: two of the COVID-19 vaccines were developed, tested, and authorised in less than a year. The speed of these developments has led many to question where inefficiencies previously existed and whether future treatments can match the pace of these vaccines.
Another consequence of the pandemic has been the rapid acceleration in digital healthcare. We saw a spike in the number of virtual doctor’s and other appointments as healthcare providers attempted to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 whilst still maintaining frontline services: in March and April 2020, the NHS reported that 70% of routine appointments were conducted remotely, compared to only 5% of similar appointments for the same period in 2019. Home delivery for prescriptions has also become much more prevalent. Looking ahead, it is predicted that healthcare providers will continue to make investments in digital and virtual healthcare. A hybrid model of virtual and in-person visits is now expected to become the norm.
In tandem, there has been an increase in the adoption of wearable devices to monitor certain conditions. These devices make patient self-monitoring in the home possible, which in turn allows patients and providers to promote social distancing and to free up resources for COVID-19 care. Wearable devices come with a number of additional benefits: patients are empowered to play an active role in their own care; there is a reduced need to visit clinical settings in person; cases can be triaged and resources can be directed to where the need is greatest.
Remote Participation in Clinical Trials
Enabling participants to take part remotely in decentralised clinical trials has allowed research to continue whilst respecting social distancing guidelines. It’s expected that remote participation in these decentralised clinical trials will continue to grow in 2022 and 2023, which will facilitate the gathering of crucial data and allow research leaders to retain participants.
Perception and Collaboration
Some have noted that the public’s perception of the life science industry has improved due to its instrumental role in tackling the crisis created by the novel coronavirus. Furthermore, COVID-19 created the impetus for collaborative partnerships where there previously were none, for example between public and private sectors, government, academic research and contract research organisations. These collaborations are set to continue as the sector navigates the beginning of a new, post-COVID-19 era.